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    Website Gives Musicians A Virtual Venue

    When you’re in a cult band that’s just starting to make some noise, getting dropped by a major distributor could silence things really quickly.


    That’s the position the four guys in the New Orleans band Mute Math found themselves in last year when Warner Bros., which had distributed their EP, declined to pick up their new disc. In a spasm of do-it-yourself self-reliance, Mute Math decided to turn to what may be the Internet success story of the moment: MySpace.com, the combo blog/e-mail/bulletin board/classifieds/music-fan site that’s a virtual home for some 50 million users worldwide.


    They booked a 50-city tour (which hits the Gypsy Tea Room in Dallas tonight), put up at least one new song on their MySpace home page, and informed the nearly 30,000 Mute Math followers on the site that the CD would be on sale only at the shows. “We knew we could use the medium of MySpace to get the word out,” says singer Paul Meany.


    But it’s in the area of music that MySpace is making the biggest splash. Logging into its music pages provides a dizzying whirl of both the well-known and the new, with some 550,000 groups and performers in 76 genres. Last year, the likes of Madonna, Coldplay, the Black Eyed Peas and Death Cab for Cutie all premiered their new CDs on the site.That’s exactly what Thomas Anderson had in mind when he and co-founder Chris DeWolfe launched MySpace.com 2 1/2 years ago. By combining elements of other successful sites — the hipster communitarianism of Friendster, the college-age vibe of Facebook, the confessional intimacy of Blogspot, the e-mail utilitarianism of Hotmail, the resourcefulness of Craigslist, and the musical adventurousness of Pitchfork — he figured they could create a free, ad-supported portal that satisfied many youthful Web desires.


    He was right: The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company grew so rapidly that it snagged the attention of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which ponied up $580 million to purchase it last summer. According to Media Metrix, which measures Internet traffic, MySpace now ranks with Yahoo!, Google, eBay, AOL, and MSN as one of the most visited destinations on the Net.


    Now MySpace has hooked up with Universal Music’s Interscope Records to launch its own label. A compilation, MySpace Records: Volume 1, came out in November featuring such popular acts as Weezer, Fall Out Boy and Dashboard Confessional while the first artist to sign with the label, the Los Angeles band Hollywood Undead, will have its own disc released this spring.


    But it appears to be proving even more valuable to struggling musicians seeking ways to communicate with their current fans and attract new ones. “It’s an amazing tool for bands at our level,” offers Mute Math’s Paul Meany. “If you haven’t turned the heads of the major labels yet and don’t have the conventional means of distribution, it’s just great.”


    Fort Worth rapper Mike Deezy, who works under the name of 28 Grams, says it’s a way to get your music heard by a lot of people without physically passing out demos. “I’m going to Atlanta to work with some people I met on MySpace to collaborate,” he says. “It’s a great site. I’ve got nothing negative to say about it.” John David Blagg, guitarist of the Texarkana art-rock outfit Pilotdrift, agrees. “A lot of people aren’t financially able to get a Web site to build a forum and this allows them to be able to have something on the Internet to get your music out there.” “When I began, music was on my mind,” explains MySpace’s Anderson, 29. “I wanted to have something like that just because I was in bands before and it made a lot of sense to me. I didn’t really anticipate what a big deal the music would become and how valuable it would be to people.”


    Even indie record labels, which theoretically could view MySpace as a form of competition, have kind words.


    “It’s possible for bands who don’t have labels to have 5,000 friends [on the site] who can actively promote [the band],” says Steve Hahnel, label manager for French Kiss Records, home to the talked-about, up-and-coming group the Hold Steady. “But they can’t distribute [an album]; they’re a means of cultivating a strong following . . . MySpace’s genius is that it gives people a way to customize their space on the Internet and allows people with similar interests to connect directly or with labels and bands they wouldn’t have a direct relationship with.”

    But MySpace is not without some detractors. With its absorption into the Rupert Murdoch/Fox TV empire, some see hints of conspiracy. A writer at the University of Houston’s Daily Cougar semi-joked in August that Murdoch himself might post a comment on a user’s blog saying, “Nice blog. We’re developing it into a new Fox reality series starring your more popular friends.”


    Others have voiced concern that a band’s music could show up on a Fox show like The O.C. without compensation. “That’s totally ridiculous,” responds Anderson. “We don’t have the rights to do something like that.”


    Anderson concedes though that he was worried that News Corp. would turn MySpace into MyCorporateSpace. “I didn’t want things to change. I wanted to continue what I was doing but with the resources of News Corp.,” he says. “The promises they made at the time, they’ve remained true to.”


    (One upcoming change: Next month, MySpace will announce that it’s launching pages dedicated to film and filmmakers.)


    Provo, Utah-based singer-songwriter Drew Danburry’s concerns have less to do with money and more to do with individuality. He’s afraid that it’s easy for a musician to get lost in the vastness of MySpace, with little emotional investment from those who happen to stumble across him. He “There’s so much music out there, people just fill their iPods with all the different bands they feel are cool,” he says, “and they don’t really appreciate all the details.”


    Matt Riggle, of Arlington pop-punk band 41 Gorgeous Blocks, believes that many performers are too reliant on MySpace. “It makes bands lazier,” he says. “They think just because they have the Web site up there, they’re doing something. They think they can just promote their shows on the site instead of actually getting out and playing.”


    But, make no mistake, both Riggle and Danburry have no intention of dismantling their MySpace presence.


    “You definitely need to compete,” says Danburry. “You can’t pull yourself out of the arena.”



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